7 daily ways to create a sense of urgency

Some people just know how to instill energy and a sense of urgency in an organization. The rest of us need to work harder at how we show up, what we write, and what we say
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The key ingredient in sustainable change, according to leadership expert and author John Kotter, is creating a sense of urgency from the start. Even in an environment of disruption, evolving business demands, and rapidly advancing technology options, urgency is not a given. It has to be encouraged until it takes hold.

Some people just know how to instill that energy in an organization. “The great leaders I have known seem to do this intuitively,” Kotter says. “The rest of us can simply be more conscious about how we show up, what we say and write – anything that others will see.”

[ Want more ideas on how to model urgency for your team? Read also: 20 ways to create a sense of urgency. ]

That can take some practice, but it’s critical. “As a leader, your focus and cadence contribute significantly to the urgency of the organization, and the more you systematize and reinforce it, the stronger the performance of the team,” says Wade Chambers, CTO and senior vice president of engineering at Grand Rounds.

Here are some daily changes IT leaders can make to encourage urgent mindsets and behaviors in their organizations:

1. Reframe communication to reflect urgency

Will this presentation put people to sleep? Scare them?

Before you put together that next presentation or compose that next email, consider how you can harness it as an opportunity to light a fire under people. “The questions you ask yourself include, for example: Will this PowerPoint presentation put people to sleep, scare them to death, make them mad that you are wasting their time, or create excitement about the need to move – and move now – to capitalize on an opportunity (and usually avoid a hazard)?” Kotter says. “The same question can be asked in reference to anything.”

2. Remove roadblocks and provide air cover

Often, the hurdle to urgently attacking a problem is simple overload. IT leaders can work with their teams to understand their constraints, says Mindy Bostick, global people and change lead at North Highland Worldwide Consulting, who works with IT leaders and other executives. “[Understanding] a day, a week, or a month in the life of a team is a great way of working with teams and team members to figure out what can be reduced or removed to free up capacity.”

3. Connect the strategic dots

“For me, it starts with a clear understanding of what is important to the company – priorities, competitive advantage,” says Chambers. “This then gets broken down into organizational and personal quarterly objectives and key results, also known as organizational key results (OKR).”

Chambers make sure each OKR has an explicit owner, a plan for measuring progress, and a clear strategy for working with others to accomplish the goal. Each OKR is documented, updated, and pulled out at staff meetings, project meetings, and one-on-ones. “I then make each week count by reviewing my quarterly OKRs and focusing on what objectives need to be [prioritized] for that specific week,” Chambers says. “The practice of connecting the strategic global priorities to the tactics to the weekly execution plan helps keep the focus on the right things and keeps the urgency high – all in executable form.”

[ What signals are you broadcasting? Read also: How to create a sense of urgency without stressing out your team: 7 tips. ]

4. Update frequently across channels

Instilling a sense of urgency at the start of a big change is necessary, but not sufficient. Frequent updates can keep the organization motivated, engaged, and focused on the right things “Keep people informed through multiple channels on progress and successes,” advises Rajiv Kohli, John N. Dalton Memorial Professor of Business at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business. “Inform using email, announcements during meetings, notice boards, memos. People absorb information differently.”

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.